Soyuz TMA-21 docks with space station (UPDATED)

Editor's note...
  • Posted at 07:27 PM EDT, 04/06/11: Soyuz TMA-21 docks with space station
  • Updated at 10:50 PM EDT, 04/06/11: Hatches opened; Soyuz crew welcomed aboard
CBS News

After a two-day orbital chase, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft glided to a smooth automated docking with the International Space Station Wednesday, bringing three fresh crew members to the laboratory complex.

The Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft makes an automated approach to the International Space Station. (Photo: NASA TV)
Monitoring a trouble-free computer-controlled approach, commander Alexander Samokutyaev, flight engineer Andrey Borisenko and NASA astronaut Ronald Garan docked at the Poisk compartment atop the station's Russian command module at 7:09 p.m. EDT (GMT-4) as the two spacecraft passed 221 miles above Chile.

Newly arrived Soyuz TMA-21 flight engineer Andrey Borisenko, front left, Alexander Samokutyaev, front center, and Ronald Garan, front right, share a laugh with their station crewmates after Garan's wife, Carmel, pointed out she has her husband's credit card for the next six months. (Photo: NASA TV)
"Contact and capture, docking confirmed," reported Rob Navias, NASA's mission control commentator in Moscow. "The Gagarin spacecraft slips into port at the International Space Station, honoring the golden anniversary of the dawn of human spaceflight."

The Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft was named in honor of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who blasted off on the first manned spaceflight on April 12, 1961. Russia plans widespread celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's historic voyage while NASA celebrates the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch on April 12, 1981.

"All of the systems on the Soyuz functioned perfectly during its final approach for docking," Navias said. "It was a fully automated docking, no issues associated with the approach and linkup."

It took two orbits -- about three hours -- to carry out a battery of normal but time consuming pressure tests and leak checks before hatches between the station and the Soyuz were opened at 10:13 p.m.

Samokutyaev and his crewmates were welcomed aboard the station by Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev, Italian flight engineer Paolo Nespoli and NASA flight engineer Catherine "Cady" Coleman, who were launched to the lab Dec. 15 aboard the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft.

All six crew members gathered in the Japanese Kibo laboratory module shortly after 10 p.m. to chat with family members and mission managers at the Russian flight control center near Moscow.

"Ron, Sasha, Andrey, congratulations on a spectacular liftoff, a spectacular flight, a spectacular docking," Garan's wife, Carmel, radioed. "You make all of your family and everyone who has participated so proud. ... We love you, we'll keep the fires burning at home warm and we'll welcome you home with open arms at the end of your very successful mission. We love you."

"I hope you have a safe trip back to Houston and I hope you have a wonderful birthday," Garan replied from the station. "And also, please say happy birthday to Ronnie and Joseph in a few days. I'll probably do the same myself. Thanks for your support, thanks for coming to Baikonur, thanks to everybody who came. ... It was a great couple of days and we're ready to get to work. Thanks for everything."

"OK," his wife replied. "And by the way, I have your credit card."

The arrival of the Soyuz TMA-21 crew kicks off a busy few weeks of activity aboard the space station as the crew gears up for the Gagarin anniversary, the arrival of a Russian Progress supply ship April 29 and the arrival of the shuttle Endeavour two days later.

Making its 25th and final flight, Endeavour's crew, scheduled for launch April 29, plans to deliver a $2 billion particle physics experiment, spare parts and needed supplies. A final shuttle flight with the Atlantis is scheduled for launch June 28.